Speech by Governor Ronald Reagan before the University of Southern California Law Day Luncheon, Los Angeles

 

April 29, 1967

 

The following is a wire from Federal Bureau of Investigation Director J. Edgar Hoover to Governor Ronald Reagan containing information for the Law Day Speech insert:

 

On April 27, 1967, 29 police agencies in the State of California were linked through the California Highway Patrol computer in Sacramento, California, to the National Crime Information Center computer here in FBI headquarters.  These agencies were successfully able to obtain instant information from data stored in the National Crime Information Center computer.  This is the first computer-to-computer exchange in the history of law enforcement.  In fact, it is the first use of this technology to link local, state and federal government.  The rapid retrieval and exchange of information among law enforcement agencies is vital if we are to successfully fulfill our responsibilities.  The California Highway Patrol, under Commissioner H. C. Sullivan, should be commended for their effort in this undertaking, especially Inspector David Luethje, and Lt. Ray Mayhugh, Mr. Richard Thompson and Mr. Lloyd Smith.

 

We are here today to celebrate Law Day.

 

It is fitting that we do this on May 1 – the same day that lawless communism celebrates the anniversary of the Red Revolution.

 

The contrast is even greater than it might seem at first glance.

 

Communism by definition is a government of men – not of laws.

 

It is the very antithesis of what our founding fathers had in mind when they laboriously and carefully designed our Constitution.

 

They feared a strong, central government.  Because a strong central government is a threat to personal liberty.

 

But, even more, they feared a government of men.  Because they knew from first-hand experience that government by men is government uncontrolled and that is tyranny.

 

They knew that no man was safe in his house, or in his property or in his person if his rights, personal or property, depended upon the whims of men or of a man.

 

They set out to prevent this from happening.  And the job they did through the document they wrote was the best in the history of man.

 

But they were not infallible and the Constitution – great as it is – is not a perfect document.

 

It can work only so long as a people truly desire to be free, only so long as men refuse to subject themselves to the rule of other men.

 

The man who said “eternal vigilance is the price of liberty” was not speaking lightly or tritely.

 

Eternal vigilance is indeed the price of liberty.  And that price is not too high to pay. 

 

But liberty, without law, without legal safeguards is not and cannot be liberty in the long run.  It becomes, instead, license, revolution, and anarchy.

 

It leads, without qualification, to mob rule and from there to the rule of the many by the few.  And these in turn establish or disestablish law as they see fit, or ignore the law and rule by fiat or edict.

 

What free men must achieve in order to remain free is a delicate balance wherein some liberty is sacrificed in order that the remainder can be preserved.

 

This cannot be successfully achieved or long maintained unless those who make the laws are answerable to the people and unless the people are willing and able to hold them answerable.

 

We have jealously guarded the concept that ours is a government of laws, not of men.

 

But we must always remember that the laws are written by men, interpreted by men and changed by men.  And that men are judged under the law by the other men.

 

Because of this, Americans have an obligation to themselves and to those who will come after them to see that those who write the laws, those who interpret them and those who judge them are men of ability, men of honor and men who are fair-minded.

 

Now a governor can recommend laws and execute them, but he cannot make them under our system.  Nor can he elect or appoint those who do.

 

And, with the exception of his clemency power, the governor cannot judge under the law, but he can, in fact under our system, he must, appoint those who do judge.

 

In many ways this is the most awesome power a governor has.  Because, while judges must in theory be approved by a vote of the people, in actuality, a man appointed judge, with rare exceptions, has a lifetime job.  An inherent weakness in our system is that it is nearly impossible for the average citizen to have all the factual information necessary to make an intelligent decision in voting for a judge, and therefore, he usually votes for the incumbent.

 

This, as I say, places an awesome responsibility and power in the hands of the governor.  He in effect, controls the administration of justice, through the men he chooses.  Justice can be good, bad or indifferent depending on the judge and on the man who appoints the judge.

 

Now there are many in California, including many in the legislature, who prefer our present system.  They recognize that a governor can and may make appointments to the bench.  They recognize that governors can, and may have, made appointments to the bench as political payoffs.

 

But they feel – sincerely – that over a period of years, the system balances out and that in the main the quality of the courts remains high.

 

Some of these men frankly feel that the appointment of judges is better off in the hands of a governor than it is in the hands of anyone else.

 

Their reasoning is clear.  In California, a party seldom remains in control of the governor’s office more than one or [two] terms at a time.  This means that each party, under a system that encourages the political appointments of judges, will wind up with its share.

 

I suspect that this is true.

 

But I submit that this is not the way to improve the quality of our appointees to the bench.  Nor is it a party balance necessary to justice in our criminal courts.

 

I submit to you that justice should not be political.

 

The theme of Law Day this year is that “no man is above the law and no man is below it … .”  I would add that all men are entitled to equal justice under it.

 

I believe that using our courts as political plums in a spoils system is no way to assure the first – or to achieve the second.

 

That is why I am disappointed that the Senate Judiciary Committee [Governmental Efficiency Committee] last week killed for this session legislation introduced at my request that would have taken the appointment of judges out of the political area.

 

During the campaign I promised we would seek action in this area.  That promise was made in a hundred different speeches.  The reaction of one hundred different crowds made it obvious that the people want assurance that California justice is not justice diluted by partisan politics.  The appointment of dozens of judges, many of which must be regarded as political payoffs, by a lame duck governor last fall and winter, did nothing to build the confidence of Californians in our political system or in our administration of justice.  My mail reflected this and reflected even more strongly than during the campaign the people’s wish for something better.

 

Because of my beliefs, because of the promises I made and because it is obviously the people’s desire, I sent to the Legislature the bill that was killed last week.  Actually, the bill would take a constitutional amendment to become effective and therefore, after legislative approval it would have to be submitted to a vote of the people.  I am sorry the Senate Judiciary Committee did not give the people the right to make that decision.

 

That bill, known as the California Judicial Selection Act, I believed, would once and for all take the appointment of judges out of the political arena.

 

It was carried on the Senate side by Senator Donald L. Grunsky and I am grateful to him for his work and his efforts to report the bill out of committee.  And I am grateful to those others who also voted to report it out.

 

Under the bill a judicial nominating commission would have been created, consisting of the Chief Justice of the State Supreme Court, two attorneys appointed by the State Bar and three lay citizens named by the governor.  That commission would review the names of those proposed by any person for appointment to the appellate courts.  After review, the commission would submit at least two names to the Governor who would then make an appointment from that list.

 

At the trial court level the commission would be augmented by three persons from the community where a vacancy existed.  One would be a member of the local bar designated by the local bar president, one would be a judge and the third would be a lay person named by the governor.

 

When a vacancy occurred the governor would be required to submit at least three names to the commission and the commission would in turn recommend from this list at least two names back to the governor.  The governor would then appoint a judge from among those names.  If the commission were unable to recommend at least two persons from the governor’s list he would be required to furnish additional names.  This would assure that the governor must submit the names of qualified attorneys as possible bench appointees.

 

There is one other key provision to this bill.  It would change the election procedures to further take the naming of judges out of politics.  Instead of making the election of municipal and superior court judges contested races, voters would be asked only to vote yes or no as they now do on the appellate court level.  If the vote were no, the judge would not be re-elected and a new judge would be named under the appointive system I mentioned a moment ago.

 

Let me say that I think what I have proposed is what the people want and what in the interests of justice, the people deserve.  I promise unequivocally that I will resubmit this legislation next year and for as long as necessary to have it enacted into law.

 

Politics has no place in the administration of justice in California.  Even though we must wait for legislative action as the first step in taking politics out of the appointment of judges on a permanent basis, we are continuing to do our best to minimize its effect on a voluntary basis.

 

As most of you know, we have formed committees in those districts where judicial vacancies occur.  These committees are composed of members of the state bar, the local bar, a judge and a lay citizen.  They sift the names of candidates for judge and turn in their recommendations to my office.

 

Without exception, we have appointed the candidate who the committee rated highest.

 

We will continue to do this until the Legislature and the people act.

 

But the selection of judges is only one facet of the program we are working on in California to assure justice for all our people and at the same time make it possible for the law abiding to live under the law without fear of it or of those who refuse to abide by it.

 

In the area of law enforcement legislation introduced as part of this administration’s program is moving along.

 

This package under the sponsorship of Senator George Deukmejian is an effort to strengthen “soft spots” in the state’s laws and crime prevention programs.

 

California is the leading state in terms of major crimes.  On a percentage basis, we have nearly twice our share – nine percent of the population and about 17 percent of the crime.

 

I am convinced that enactment of this proposed legislation will help deter crime, will slow the flood of pornographic material now available on our news stands, will speed and strengthen the administration of justice and will assure California citizens the best and most efficient law enforcement agencies in the nation.

 

This legislation includes: crime package [handwritten annotation]

 

First:  An effective law to restore to the cities and counties the ability to enact local laws designed to meet local problems.  This is commonly referred to as the “implied pre-emption issue.”

 

Such a law will allow local law enforcement agencies to more thoroughly police their jurisdictions, especially in the areas of vice, sex offenses and offenses against public decency.

 

Second:  Laws increasing penalties for those criminals who, during the commission of a robbery, burglary or rape, inflict great bodily harm upon their victims with dangerous weapons.  I believe society must be protected from those who would inflict personal violence on its members.  Three measures identical to those we have introduced were passed by both houses of the Legislature in 1965 but were pocket-vetoed by the last governor.

 

Third:  Comprehensive legislation dealing with pornography and obscenity, with special emphasis on prohibiting dissemination to minors of “harmful” material.  A careful effort is being made to avoid any suspicion of censorship.

 

Fourth:  We recognize that from time to time persons are arrested unjustly or as victims of circumstances.  Yet, despite their innocence, they must live the remainder of their lives with a public police record.  Our bill, by closing certain records, will provide relief for such persons while, at the same time, preserving those records for use by law enforcement agencies and other authorized persons.

 

But we are convinced that even more effort on the part of all of us is needed if we are to control crime in California.

 

Statistics show:

 

In 1965, the last year for which figures are available, California was above the national average in five out of seven major categories of crime.

 

During the same year California led the states of at least 5 million population in total crime.

 

That year California murders went up 14 percent, rapes increased five percent, robberies nine percent, burglaries 11 percent and all offenses increased an average of nine percent.

 

This was not an unusual year.  It was the continuation of a pattern; in 1964 all offences went up 10 percent, in 1963 they went up 7 percent, in 1963 they went up 3 percent.

 

There are many reasons and theories given for the increase in the incidence of crime.

 

I do not hold with the theory that says society is to blame, when a man commits a robbery or a murder and therefore we must be as understanding and as sympathetic for the criminal as we are for the victim.

 

True, there has been a spirit of permissiveness abroad in the land that has undoubtedly added to the juvenile delinquency problem.  This is a time of affluence, where young people have time on their hands, and seek outlets once provided by jobs.

 

There is talk these days that punishment is not a deterrent and as punishment becomes more difficult to mete out, those who would be deterred by the threat of punishment feel freer to commit crimes and acts of violence.

 

There is a belief in some quarters that grievances, real or fancied, can be remedied by marches or even riots.

 

The courts at the appellate level have narrowed the difference between liberty and license and in some areas have overbalanced the scales of justice so that the rights of society are outweighed by decisions granting new rights to individuals accused of crimes.

 

For a variety of reasons, including those listed above, the streets of many of our big cities have become unsafe at night and in some neighborhoods, even in the daytime.

 

A major reason, I think, for the increase in crime is the very progress we are making which benefits and enriches our civilization.  Scientific and technological advances are being utilized by and adapted for use by the criminal element.

 

Modern methods of transportation and communications, and modern tools and weapons are used daily by those who prey on society.

 

If we are to reverse this trend it is essential that society also use to the fullest our scientific and technological advances in the prevention, detection and control of crime.  And in the correction and rehabilitation of criminals.

 

In addition, there is need for basic research involving the joint effort of various scientific and professional disciplines into the nature of crime, and criminals and into methods of detection, apprehension and treatment.

 

[PORTION OF SPEECH MISSING]

 

As a matter of fact, we have already taken, in conjunction with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, one major step to help combat crime. 

 

California Highway Patrol Commissioner Harold Sullivan has arranged with the FBI for a computer to computer link-up between his headquarters and the National Crime Information Center at FBI headquarters in Washington,

 

Thanks to Commissioner Sullivan, 29 police agencies in California were linked on April 27 through the Highway Patrol computer to the FBI.

 

We are told by J. Edgar Hoover that this is the first computer to computer exchange in the history of law enforcement.

 

In fact it is the first use of this technology to link local, state and federal government.

 

Both the FBI and our law enforcement officials feel this link-up will be invaluable in our fight against crime by allowing the rapid retrieval and exchange of information between California and the FBI.

 

But this is just one step.

 

[PORTION OF SPEECH MISSING]

Second, we wish and expect to maintain the traditional partnership and spirit of mutual cooperation between the agencies of state and local government.

 

Third, we must provide coordination of the various agencies and groups involved in criminal justice projects,

 

And fourth, we must provide a vehicle to handle federal-state relations and to implement federal legislation dealing with crime control.

 

These objectives will be met by a council on criminal justice which will be established under the master plan.

 

This council, made up of representatives of all the agencies and bodies involved in crime control, as well as representative citizens, will function in much the same manner as the Coordinating Council on Higher Education functions and we are convinced it will provide the same sort of benefits.

 

The Council will be responsible for developing state-wide plans for the prevention, detection and control of crime and for the administration of criminal justice.

 

It will conduct studies, survey resources and identify the needs for research and development.  It will encourage coordination, planning and research by the agencies of criminal justice throughout the state and will serve as a clearing house for the study and dissemination of information.

 

Such a council will give California the ability to attack crime and the roots of crime from many vantage points.

 

Of course, no program in itself can work miracles and/or eliminate crime.  But this program will insure that we are utilizing to the fullest all the available resources and that we are continually coming up with new resources.

 

The war on crime is a never-ending one.  And it is necessary that we pursue it constantly and with vigor if our citizens are to be safe on our streets and in their homes, and if man is to be able to live free from fear of his fellow man in an ever-contracting world and an increasingly more complex society.

 

I do not claim that our proposals contain all the answers.  But I do say we have made a new beginning, a beginning that will increase the confidence of the citizen in his government, engender respect for the law and insure speedy and equal justice under it.

 

If it would seem that we are adding unduly to the responsibilities of the private citizen, let us be aware that history records when the freedom the Athenians wished for most was freedom the Athenians wished for most was freedom from responsibility, Athens ceased to be free and was never free again.